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On Friday 23 February, ex-professional rugby league player Luke Ambler visited Allerton Grange School to talk to boys about mental health.

After dealing with his brother-in-law’s death from suicide in April 2016, Luke decided to quit rugby and helped set up Andy’s Man Club, which raises awareness of mental health issues amongst boys and young men.

During the presentation, Luke shared his own struggles with mental health. Starting in his teens with the separation of his parents, his symptoms have reappeared at various points in his life through the set-backs and challenges he has faced.

Luke spoke openly and honestly about his experiences, which saw him go from an overweight teenager from Halifax, who comfort ate as a result of bullying at school, to a super-fit international rugby player, to then going downhill after leaving Leeds Rhinos. Our students really engaged with his fast-paced and down to earth delivery, which was interspersed with humour whilst still conveying the seriousness that is mental ill-health.

Luke was animated as he portrayed a scenario we all can relate to – suddenly realising on your way to work or school that you can’t remember locking the door at home. He described an all-too-familiar feeling; building it up, hour after hour, creating a mental image of strangers emptying the house of all your worldly possessions, only to find that when you get back, you had, in fact, locked the door in the first place. The point he so wonderfully made was that how we think can manifest itself from the way in which we think, and our emotions are linked to this. The key is not to worry about something that is out of your control.

The #itsokaytotalk campaign on social media was one of the biggest ever recorded, with some well-known celebrities getting involved by tweeting their own selfie using the hashtag. The organisation’s aim is to reduce the stigma surrounding men being able to discuss their feelings.

The students left the session with some key points:

Adam - “You don’t know what people are going through, so be careful about what you say to them.”

Charlie - “You can’t change the past, but if you get the now right, the future will take care of itself.”

Sebastian – “Don’t say ‘Why me?’ Focus on the things you can control.”

Teddy – “It was brave of him to talk about his friend dying. It’s okay to talk about emotions.”

Anon – “I liked the saying about radiators and drains. The right friends, radiators, can be a positive influence. The wrong friends are drains and aren’t worth hanging around with.”

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